by Jeff Mulhollem
Penn State University
April 25, 2018
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Pennsylvania's black bear population is experiencing a mange epidemic, and a Penn State research team will work with the state Game Commission to gain a better understanding of the disease and develop strategies to manage it.
Mange is a highly contagious skin disease caused by parasitic mites that results in hair loss and sometimes emaciation and death. It has afflicted mammals around the world for centuries and likely much longer. To learn why the disease has grown so common and severe in Pennsylvania bears in recent years, a small group of biologists, immunologists and entomologists in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences will study bear ecology, movement and immune response.
Researchers also will focus on the genetics of the sarcoptes mites and ticks the bears are carrying.
"Mange is a recurring problem in Pennsylvania but it is occurring at an accelerating and seemingly unprecedented pace in bears," said lead researcher Erika Machtinger, assistant professor of entomology and a certified wildlife biologist. "We want to work with the Game Commission to try to figure out what's going on. Different species of skin mites can be found in bears in other states but this severe outbreak of sarcoptic mange is a unique Pennsylvania situation."
Researchers will help a Game Commission crew trap, radio collar and then track 36 bears for two years, analyzing tissue and blood samples taken from the animals. Bear trapping for the study began this month and will continue through the summer. People who see bears with mange in Pennsylvania are urged to contact the appropriate Game Commission region office: Northwest, 814-432-3187; Southwest, 724-238-9523; Southcentral, 814-643-1831; Northcentral, 570-398-4744; Northeast, 570-675-1143; and Southeast, 610-926-3136.
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